Growing up in Northern Ontario I didn’t know until after I had left the North, acquired post secondary education and become much more educated on the topic that I had been experiencing internalized racism most of my life. I didn’t know my culture, I didn’t know my mother language, I felt shame about my racial identity.
I also came to the realization of the fact that there was a previous aim of the Canadian government in assimilating First Nations and Inuit people into non aboriginal culture and committing cultural genocide, and that most of the shameful things I heard about First Nations was largely related to this.
As I became educated on the topic of Aboriginal affairs in Canada I was appalled at some of the things I learned. Like that for a century nearly 50% of children forced to abide by Canada’s Residential School Act died from hopelessness, failed runaway attempts, brutal punishments, suicide or illness in the residential schools (for more info: http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-by-the-numbers-1.3096185). That sexual abuse was widespread in the schools. That brutal physical punishments accompanied any expression or display of culture children of these schools engaged in.
Now, with the continued epidemics of suicide, mental health & health issues, and prevalence of other social problems I can fully see the context within which these problems developed. I can fully understand why the legacy of shame followed my footsteps, why the cries of Our People’s children rise from the ground, why horrendous atrocities are still occurring in many of our First Nations. And why giving these experiences a voice is so important to helping Our People break free from the legacy of pain that has been haunting us.
One way to hear this voice and join in, no matter what your nationality or culture is to participate in the now annual Orange Shirt Day. This past Friday Sept 30th, children and adults all over the nation wore Orange Shirts in memory of Residential School Survivors. Jenny Dupuis, the granddaughter of the original Orange Shirt Wearer (Phyliss Webstad) shared: “I hope this day will spark deep and meaningful conversations with students about topics like oppression, loss of identity and assimilation.” (for more: http://www.orangeshirtday.org/)
In my profession as a psychotherapist, helping to reduce the impact of the resulting Historical & Intergenerational Trauma of the residential school system has been of paramount importance to me, and my colleagues at Qualia Counselling Services. Through the help of government programs like Non Insured Health Benefits for First Nations we offer cognitive behavioural therapy for survivors of residential schools, as well as their family members and those still living with the ongoing effects of these community wide traumas. We are dedicated to doing our part in helping these individuals gain a voice and understanding of the impacts of these experiences and also a hope and brightness for the future. If you or a loved one is a First Nations member and would like to connect with our services, contact us today. You don’t need to live in silence or suffering any longer. We will solemnly remember, and pledge always to do our part in the continued aftermath of this trauma.